Ophelia's Mad Songs

Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”, deals with extremes of human behaviour. One character, Ophelia, is driven mad by the death of her father and betrayal of her lover, Hamlet. In her madness, Ophelia talks about her father and his death and about the “Tricks in thhe world”( all the terrible things that happen to people). Her speech and her fragments of songs are only half sensible, but the people of Denmark read into what she says. The following are the songs, she sings and my interpretations of them:

How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandle shoon.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 23-26)

I believe this song is about how she feels that Hamlet never truly lloved her. She is saying that it is difficult for a person to know if their lover really loves them. This is a reference to Hamlet’s betrayal.

He is dead and gone,lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 29-32)

In this snatch of song, I believe Ophelia is singing of her father’s death, that he is dead and gone. There is a clump of earth at a burial plot at his feet.

White his shroud as the mountain snow.
(Act IV Sc. V, Line 35)

Ophelia is singing about the shroud that covered her father’s body. The white symbolizes innocence and she believed her father to be guiltless.

Larded with sweet flowers;
which bewept to the grave did go
which true-love showers.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 37-39)

Ophelia sings of the flowers, decorating her fathers grave and the tears she has shed for him because of her love for her father.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

Then up he rose, and donn’ed his clothes,
and dupp’d the chamber-door;
let in the maid, that out a maid
never departed more.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 48-54)

Ophelia believed she had found true love with Hamlet because they were the first to see each other on Saint Valentine’s Day. Hamlet took Ophelia’s virginity and then discarded her. She feels Hamlet used her.

By Gis, and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t if they come to’t,
By cock they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me.
You promised me to wed.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 59-66)

Ophelia feels that Hamlet has seduced her because he promised her he would marry her before they made love. Afterwards, he never even looked back; he told her that he never really loved her, and never even cared for her. She feels that Hamlet only promised to wed her so that she would sleep with him.

They bore him barefaced on the bier;
Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny;
And on his grave rains many a tear,-
Fare you well, my dove!
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 164-166)

I believe she is singing of how they had put Polonius on the bier to transport him to his grave. At the grave many people mourned him with their tears.

You must sing down-a-down
And you call him a-down-a.
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 170-171)

Again she is speaking about her father.

For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.
(Act IV Sc. V, Line 187)

This is a reference to Hamlet.

And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?
No,no, he is dead,
Go to thy death-bed,
He never will come again.

His beard as white as snow,
All flaxen with his poll:
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan:
God ha’ mercy on his soul!
(Act IV Sc. V, Lines 23-26)

Polonius is gone forever. We know it is Polonius because she sing of his flaxen (white) poll (head). Ophelia asks for God to have mercy on Polonius’ soul and continues to mourn his death.

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Ophelia the Innocent Victim

Ophelia was just another insane person in a play filed with insanity, right? No, I don’t think so; she was an innocent victim and I have the proof to back it up. There are many different views on this topic and here are just a few.

Despite all the drama and emotion, there is one fact you have to remember -Ophelia was a young girl, approximately 15. She believed and followed everything her father said. Remember it was Polonius who ordered Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. More significantly, Ophelia did it; she was an obedient and loving child. Thus when her father was killed, she didn’t know what to do; she was completely unprepared by her young life to deal with this crisis. The point is that she was too young to control her emotions.

Was her fall into the river an accident or was it deliberate suicide? Well with her run of bad luck, I think so. First, her brother leaves, this was very important because Laertes gave her advice and she was receptive to it. Second, Hamlet brushes her off in a very cruel way. Finally, her father Polonius is killed and in a terrible twist of fate it is her lover, Hamlet, who wields the sword that kills her father. This was just too much for the mind of a young girl to handle; the horror was too great and the only refuge was insanity. When you examine the evidence, it seems obvious that someone in her state of mind could be oblivious to danger and accidently drown.

When she fell into the river, she was too disturbed to realise the danger she was in. Basically, Ophelia, who was not in the right state of mind, thought that she would float forever. NO!!! She was done the minute she entered the river, the water soaked her dress which engulfed her and she sank to her sad death.

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